Top 10 Mistakes to Avoid When Choosing an Au Pair…

Experience shows us that there’s 10 TOP mistakes to avoid when choosing an Au Pair that the other agencies won’t tell you!
Top 10 Mistakes to Avoid When Choosing an Au Pair….

Mistake #10: Not Reviewing An Agency’s credentials
If you choose a program because it is cheap, you may be placing your children at risk. You should ask hard questions about how the girls are screened. Is your agency a member of a local and/or International Association? Do they look and sound (don’t just rely on the website but give them a call) like ‘experts’ in their field? What is their re-match policy and what is the pool of au pairs to choose from? Why are they so much cheaper than others? How easy is it to get through on the phone? Is there just one person? What happens when she is not there? Is there only a mobile phone? (run a mile!)

Mistake #9: Not Taking the Time to Carefully Check and Re-Check the au pair Application
Each agency will send you an application for each au pair you are interested in. Many host parents make the mistake of not making the most of this material.
Tip: Look at the date when the au pair received her driving license and this will tell you how many years experience she has behind the wheel. More important however is ‘real’ driving experience; frequency, total mileage and traffic conditions. Traffic in Europe is busy and challenging and many young drivers get their own car shortly after passing their test. Some Asian drivers especially have no or minimal driving experience.

Mistake #8: Not Reading between the Lines of the Au Pair’s Host Family Letter
Each au pair writes a letter to her prospective host parent and her letter can be very revealing even before you speak to the au pair. Her letter gives you a sense of her ability to express herself in English and what kind of personality she has. What are her reasons for leaving her home? Does she come from an intact family who are close? Does she have siblings? If the au pair’s letter expresses positive statements about herself, her family and about children in general, read the rest of the application. If the letter does not have these elements, skip it and move onto the next application.
Tip: Does her letter express a “sunny” and positive personality that may indicate she has good self-esteem and a secure sense of self-identity? And how about on the phone?

Mistake #7: Not Conducting a Phone or Skype Interview with the Prospective Au Pair
You must call any au pair you are interested in! This phone call is critical to the success of your year with an au pair. Many times we have heard from host moms that they were too busy to call the au pairs! They said they “emailed the girl many times” and were confident the au pair was the “one.”
These host moms are usually very disappointed and ask for a rematch soon after the girl arrives. Once you have the girl on the line, may sure you ask her specific questions that represent real situations that are likely to occur. Her responses will give you a window into her personality, cultural differences and her ability to think quickly on her feet. Does she sound mature, responsible and flexible? If you like the answers and like the au pair, call her multiple times before you make a decision. Each time you call her, you will find out more about her qualifications and personality.

Mistake #6: Not Getting Tough with the Agency during the Matching Process
If the agency is sending you applications that do not meet your family’s needs, reject them. Be clear about what your most important criteria are in choosing an au pair (ex. driving skills, experienced infant care, good English skills, etc.). If your agency will not work with you switch to one that will or can.

Mistake #5: Matching with an Au Pair that Does Not Drive
This can be a big mistake – you may think you don’t need an au pair to drive but unless you live in a large city with public transportation right outside your door, do not match with an au pair that does not drive!

Mistake #4: Matching with an Au Pair who has a Serious Relationship with a Boyfriend
Some au pairs sign up for the program even though are in a pretty heavy relationship with a boyfriend.
They both think they can be apart for 12 months, but eventually, the couple starts to miss each other. They may spend a lot of time and money calling and emailing each other multiple times a day. The boyfriend may start to tell your au pair she made a mistake – and if he “wins” the day, you lose big time because your au pair may very well break the match and return home! If she doesn’t go home, and tries to stick out the long 12 months, she may end up miserable and unhappy
Tip: If after the au pair says “no” to the question “Do you have a boyfriend” drop it and come back to it again, unexpectedly. Later, in the conversation, ask, “What does your boyfriend think about that?” Usually, caught off guard and if the girl is honest and not used to fabricating stories, she will (and if she indeed has a boyfriend) answer in the affirmative “Well, my boyfriend thinks …”

Mistake #3: Matching with a Party Girl
In the au pair industry, we label girls who go out every night and every weekend, dancing and drinking and cavorting with men, “Party Girls”. How do you avoid a Party Girl? Ask the right questions: “What do you do on weekends?” “What are you most interested in doing when you get to the Australia?” and “Why did you decide to become an au pair?” If your prospective au pair tells you she cannot wait to try the clubs in Sydney, think carefully about matching with her.
Tip: Take a look at her pictures that will accompany her application and letter. If most of the shots are with friends, hanging out at the beach, drinking beer, dancing at clubs wearing skimpy dresses, and you see very little of her family, think Party Girl. Au Pairs applying through a reputable agency are more likely to understand the au pair role and will have been probed already on their lifestyle.

Mistake #2: Not being honest with yourself
Is an au pair really right for your family?
There are some things you may not want to hear/read in this section….
But in some situations we know an au pair has a limited chance of success, here are some of the examples that we have encountered.
Isolation, either from your family, due to the fact that you are very private people and really want your own space more than you want a person helping with your children
A child that is hostile towards the au pair, either a younger child with real anxiety towards strangers or an older child, almost in the same age group as the au pair an not willing to accept a ‘big sister’ in either a position of authority or even friendship
A recent trauma, such as a painful break-up or a serious medical situation, in your family means that there is a lot of discomfort and the au pair role resembles counseling rather than cultural exchange
Extremely demanding positions such as highly absent parents working long hours and when at home stressed or tired may mean the au pair carries an enormous amount of responsibility.
Mum is always there and can’t ‘let go’ (or the children won’t let go!) If it’s the children, this is relatively easy: connect the au pair with favorite ‘excursions’ such as dress-up, camping in the living room, feeding the ducks, blowing bubbles or making cookies; something that is special enough not to be an everyday activity. If the child gets to do these favorites with the au pair at the start, she will associate the au pair with fun stuff. This is especially important if the au pair arrives around the same time as a new baby and other child/children may feel a little left out and this feeling is associated with the au pair.

Top # 1 Mistake: Choosing an Au Pair Who Does Not Speak English!
This is a one of the most common mistakes a host family will make with dire consequences on their time and wallet. Although most au pairs will quickly adapt and speak better English, she needs to have fair English to start with.

You must understand and accept the Number One Reason young women join au pair programs is to improve their English skills. You may speak her language, but don’t assume that others can, including your family! Your children and your spouse must be able to speak to her, and she may need to speak with teachers or other school mums to convey a message.
Many host moms will choose an au pair based on the language she took in college, hoping to get a “refresher course” from the au pair. Remember host moms, this is not a language program for you – it is a language program for the au pair! So, if you think your au pair will arrive and be happy speaking her native tongue in your home, think again! She is there to immerse herself in English! Choose an au pair who can speak English in your home so she can improve her skills. In addition, if you cannot speak her language, and her English skills are poor, then no one will be able to communicate with her!

Tip: Don’t expect your au pair to stay with your family if English is your second language and you and your family always speak your first language in the home. When host families only speak their native tongue instead of English, the majority of au pairs will become very unhappy with this arrangement (even if they agreed to it initially). She will most likely ask for a rematch with “a real Australian family that speaks English in the home.” So, if you are French, Russian or Hispanic, etc., and refuse to speak English in your home, you may not find an au pair who is willing to spend her entire stay with you. You must approach the au pair experience with a commitment to speaking English with your au pair.
All of these 10 mistakes, now that you know them, are easily avoided. Our agency staff and our partner agencies overseas use our combined experience to minimise mistakes.
NOTE: above content is adapted from an article by Edina Stone from Au Pair Clearing House USA.

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